California high school students graduating in 2030 or later will be required to take at least one semester of an ethnic studies course. Legislation mandating the new graduation requirement was signed into law last week, following similar policies in Los Angeles Unified and Fresno Unified school districts.
Schools across the state must ensure that all students take a semester-long ethnic studies course by the 2029-2030 school year, and schools must begin offering the course by the 2025-2026 school year.
The new law, laid out by Assembly Bill 101, follows a similar yet unsuccessful bill vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom last year. The previous bill’s curriculum was deemed insufficient, but a newer course designed by the Instructional Quality Commission was approved by the State Board of Education in March, paving the way for mandated adoption of the curriculum.
The curriculum focuses on four traditionally-overlooked ethnic and racial groups: Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. It also includes information on additional groups including Sikh, Jewish, Arab, and Armenian Americans. Although the curriculum is mandatory, schools must present the proposed course topics and activities to the public for feedback before adoption. Additionally, the law mandates that the curriculum materials “not reflect or promote” any bias, bigotry, or discrimination.
Research conducted in San Francisco by Thomas Dee, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found that ethnic studies have a positive impact on attendance, graduation rates, and college enrollment for high school students.
Following the signing of the law, Secretary of State Shirley Weber said, “At a time when some states are retreating from an accurate discussion of our history, I am proud that California continues to lead in its teaching of ethnic studies. This subject not only has academic benefits but also has the capacity to build character as students learn how people from their own or different backgrounds face challenges, overcome them and contribute to American society.”